Make A Small Gesture [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We’ve built our towering life together on the small gesture. Coffee in bed. A note stashed in a suitcase to be found when far away from home. We hold hands everywhere we go. When getting ready for bed, the first one in the bathroom always puts toothpaste on both brushes. Little kindnesses. The smallest of signals and courtesies that say nothing more and nothing less than, “You matter most of all.”

Looking for the grand plan that will change the world or, better, trying to be the grand plan, often blinds us to the real necessity of the moment. We look for the mountain that needs to be moved and miss the hand that needs to be held.

My younger, revolutionary self screams, “WHAT?! WE NEED TO PUSH BACK! WE NEED TO FIGHT THE SYSTEM!! WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WORLD!!! THIS SMALL-MOMENT STUFF IS THE CRAP-THINKING OF AN OLD PERSON! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!!!!

I’ve been more changed by a smile from across the room than by all the agitation that I’ve engendered across the span of my life. I have initiated more change by holding my tongue than by wagging it. Listening, I’ve learned, is a most powerful small gesture.

If I am old (I don’t feel old), if I have learned anything, then I have learned that real love is not noisy or flashy or grand. It is quiet. It steps behind you when you are frightened, puts its hand on your back and whispers, “I’ve made you a toothbrush.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SMALL GESTURES

 

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Use Both Ears [On Merely A Thought Monday]

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When I was young and upset about an issue I can no longer remember, Tom tempered me with this question: “Is this the hill you want to die on?”

Another time, still young, I was very angry, and on a warm spring day in the central valley, Arnie sat with me on the grass and listened to my tale of woe. I wanted to write a letter expressing my discontent. He nodded and, in his gentle way, taught me that sometimes it is sometimes necessary to express yourself because you need to express yourself and for no other reason: “Write it because you need to say it, not because they need to hear it,” he said. This morning, as I write this, I can’t for the life of me remember what made me so angry.

Quinn taught me that there are seven billion people with me on this earth and not a single one cares about what I look like or what I think. Like me, they are invested in what they look like, what they think.

They do care, however, that I listen. Isn’t it the case so often in this life that the opposite of what we believe is actually where the power lives? Aren’t we under siege in a raging war of opinions, a constant bombardment of competing points-of-view? So many mouths and not a single ear in the mix.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what made me so angry on those days so long ago. I can’t remember the hill I chose not to die on. What seemed so important was, in truth, not even worth remembering. I do, thankfully, remember the sage advice of so many mentors, teachers and friends. I’m so grateful that in the midst of my red hot self-righteousness, I was capable of listening.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EARS AND MOUTHS

 

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Save Your Nickel [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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We walk on snowy trails through the woods because it is quiet. I retreat to my studio to work because it is quiet. It inspires quiet. Quiet evokes quiet.

Scrolling through her news app, Kerri said, “Everyone in the world is angry.” It certainly seems that way, especially if the news is the lens through which the world is defined. Headlines shout. The advertisements flash and disrupt.  Tom used to say that watching television, plugging into the news-of-the-day, reminded him of his childhood. The circus would come to town. Carnival barkers and bright signs, lots of noise and distractions. The one sure moneymaker, the tent everyone clamored to get into, lining up to pay their shiny nickel, was the freak show. Two headed cows in jars of formaldehyde. Things that gross us out or make us mad. “Nowadays, they call it reality television,” he’d say, shaking his head. “Or the news. It’s a lot of noise.”

Here’s a simple truth: conversation is impossible in too much noise. People shouting to be heard. A room full of shouting people actually makes listening more difficult and conversing impossible. It’s a feedback loop. Noise evokes noise. And, noise isolates. It is a perfect recipe for being alone together.

The Five20 is a little bar at the Stagecoach Inn in Cedarburg.  Their tagline, “Where you can actually hear your conversation” is refreshingly accurate and seems a throwback to another era. People valuing conversation; a place, a space, intended to facilitate interaction sans noise. Our group, 10 people strong, the up-north-gang, began and ended our yearly trek to Winterfest there. Sitting at the far end of the long table, I could hear every word spoken at the other end. Even when the bar was packed.  And, the best part, today, I can’t tell you what we talked about – the simple stuff  of life – but I can tell you that we laughed and shared and left the Five20 full of friendship, warmed by sharing rather than exhausted from shouting.

As Tom would have said, “Save your nickel.” Sometimes the thing you seek is not in the tent amidst the noise but outside, far from the circus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WHERE YOU CAN ACTUALLY HEAR

 

 

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Play The Same Stuff [on Merely A Thought Monday]

string bass with frame copy“If you are a chef, not matter how good a chef you are, it’s not good cooking for yourself; the joy is in cooking for others – it’s the same with music.” ~will.i.am

I lived most of my life believing I didn’t have a musical bone in my body. I was convinced that I had a tin ear. I was afraid to sing. I carried a guitar (I named her Magnolia) with me for years – a gesture of hopefulness amidst my absolute commitment to my ineptitude – and finally gave it away to someone who could play it. An instrument needs to be played and I felt I was being selfish holding onto a guitar that I would never play. Oh, how I wish I had Magnolia today.

I didn’t just make up my fear of music. I had plenty of reinforcement, lots of shaming, before I committed to a story of I CAN’T. Over time, with more and more horror experiences, my story solidified into I WON’T. Ever. Close the door. Kill the desire.

When I met Kerri – a consummate musician – I told her this: “You have to know two things about me. I don’t sing & I don’t pray.” A few months later we were driving back roads in Georgia, windows rolled down, a James Taylor CD blaring, Kerri singing at the top of her lungs, I thought it was safe to sing along. She’d never hear me. But, she did. She burst into tears and pulled the car off the road. I shook like a leaf but we sang together and it was grand.

It took her about 15 minutes to identify my obstacle. I had to relearn how to hear. That’s it. It took a few months and a willingness to mightily miss notes and my scary story of CAN’T crumbled. I learned how to feel the sound. The music was there all along.

Here’s the magic for a beginner like me: when I am rehearsing with the ukulele band or singing in the choir, I am capable of so much more than when I am practicing by myself. Playing the same stuff elevates everyone. It’s as if we transcend ourselves. Actually, we do transcend ourselves. We sync up and the energy uplifts everyone. Even me. Especially me, a toddler in knowing that I CAN.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PLAYING THE SAME STUFF

 

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Look Close-In [on DR Thursday]

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Georgia O’Keeffe was a master painter of paradox. Her paintings open the expansive universe by focusing close in, approaching the mystical, the sensual through the minute. She expressed so much through minimal strokes. I suspect her paintings are an expression of how she lived. Standing still in the arroyo, listening. Moving inward to reach the outer spaces.

I am a artist of a by-gone century. While I appreciate the digital world (you would not be reading this without it), I love the visceral, the deep inner driver, the instinctual. I am tactile. I am fed by the feel of the brush moving across the canvas, the smell and splash of the paint, the dance.  A world of possibilities and paths open when mistakes are not easily erased. Kerri calls this analog.

This is a morsel, a close-in crop of my painting, Earth Interrupted VII. Look closely and you will see the meeting ground of the methodical and the spontaneous, the controlled and the improvisational. I am learning from looking close-in. I see forces merged that used to be at odds, now good dance partners. Compliments. I, too, am learning to stand still, not in the arroyo but on the shores of Lake Michigan. Visceral. Listening. Moving inward in the hope of reaching the outer spaces.

read Kerri’s post about this MORSEL

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

 

earth interrupted VII/morsel ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Follow The Path [on Chicken Marsala Monday]

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Rule #1: When a path announces itself it will make no sense. Trying to understand it will make stepping onto the path problematic. The order is clear: Step first. Make sense second.

Rule #2: A path is a living thing, a relationship. A path requires engagement, experience. If you confuse yourself into thinking that the path is about achievement then you are most certainly off the path. Achievements are fixed, like trophies. Paths are fluid, like friendship. Achievements are finite games. Paths are infinite games.

Rule #3: Paths do not speak in loud voices. They whisper. To hear the path’s announcement it is often necessary to get quiet. A path is patient. It will know you are ready to listen when it sees you turn away from the chatter.

Rule #4: A path requires a single action: pick up the paint brush, preferably the big brush, dip it in the bucket of paint, and start. The need is not to know where you are going. The need is not to be right or best or wise or clever. The path merely needs you to start.

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read Kerri’s blog about PATHS

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

 

sometimes the path forward announces itself ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Gear Down, Baby!

a detail from my painting, John's Secret

a detail from my painting, John’s Secret

When writing The Seer I showed the early chapters to some pals and the response was unanimous: break it down into smaller bites. The conceptual steps were too big for readers to connect the dots.”What!” I exclaimed. “Are you kidding me!” I protested. “Are you telling me that people need me to spell it out for them? Am I supposed to hit them on the head with a hammer?” I cried in disbelief to my bemused pals. Their response to my inner adolescent was, again, unanimous: yes. You need to go slower, take smaller steps, and come a bit closer to earth. The details matter. The job is not to be understood. The job is to create understanding.

After gnashing my teeth and tearing my clothes I took their sage advice. And, it was sage advice. The book that I published was comprised of only the first three chapters from the original manuscript broken into smaller thought-bites. Breaking it down was one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done. Like Horton the-hearer-of-a-Who, I discovered complete new universes in the details, in the things I’d deemed too insignificant to mention or simply didn’t see with my head so firmly in the clouds. Ironically, while writing a book entitled The Seer, I learned a lesson in seeing.

Skip laughed when we first met. He’s a very-big-thinker and, like me, sees the world from 30,000 feet. He exclaimed, “Oh, No! You have the curse, too!” From 30,000 feet, small steps and details are almost invisible or easy to ignore. From 30,000 feet, everything is inter-related, one great big dynamic flowing motion. From 30,000 feet, the ubiquitous question is, “Don’t they see?” The runner-up question is, “What’s the problem?”

As we learned in school, the devil is in the details so, with my head in the clouds I have often been surprised by the detail-devil. People on the ground plant flags and guard territory. People on the ground choose sides and assume a defensive posture before thinking to ask a single question. Fear drives swifter action than does lofty reason. People are much more complex than they seem from the conceptual heights.

And, the only way of working with a complexity is through a simplicity. Connect the dots. Do not assume that “they” will “know” or “understand.” Do not assume that “they” see what I see or believe what I believe – or that what I see or believe is better or more valid than what they see. Opening a heart is a slow affair. Listening is best done when leaning in. Asking questions before making statements is good artistic process. Be a dot that connects to the other dots. Art, in all of its forms, is meant to serve as the great dot connector.

John's Secret by David Robinson

John’s Secret by David Robinson

Kerri, no stranger to my 30,000 foot rants, has developed a short-hand phrase for those too-many-moments when I need to move slower and pay attention to the details. She is helping me with this life lesson by applying a simplicity to my complexity. Now, when I have assumed that the dots are already connected and am perplexed by the breakdown, she simply says, “gear down, baby.” Move to a lower gear and open your eyes. Connection always happens in a lower gear. What is really there is infinitely more important (and often more beautiful) than what we want to be there. Releasing the “shoulds” opens eyes and hearts for shared experiences. So, gear down, baby.